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Jan 27, 2013

Sterling dreaming of Wembley

Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling is desperate to play at Wembley for real - having used the stadium's building site as a playground when he was a child.

• Liverpool blog: Hindsight and redemption

Sterling's family moved from Jamaica to London when he was five, and settled in Neasden, near the national stadium, just as it was about to be torn down and rebuilt.

Sterling and his friends made regular visits to the site as it was being rebuilt, and dreamed that he would get to play there one day. He hopes that 2013 will be the year it happens for him, with Liverpool aiming to move a step closer to Wembley in the FA Cup on Sunday as they visit League One side Oldham in round four.

Sterling could well make his Wembley debut sooner than May's cup final, as he is also in contention for a place in Roy Hodgson's England squad for next month's friendly against Brazil.

Reaching Wembley would be something special for the 18-year-old, who spent his childhood riding his bike up to the stadium site from nearby Copland High School, where he was educated.

"The school was literally two minutes away from the stadium," Sterling told the Sunday Telegraph. "When Wembley was being rebuilt I used to ride around there on my BMX just, like, circling the area. There was a little car park and we used to ride around it.

"At first there was nothing there. Then one day, there was the arch and then on it went until it was finished."

But Sterling's appetite for playing in an FA Cup final was really whetted when he got a ticket in 2007, and saw Didier Drogba score an extra-time winner for Chelsea against Manchester United.

"They gave the talented kids from my school free tickets to go - and it was just beautiful," Sterling said. "From that moment, I felt I really wanted to play there one day, that it would be a dream come true."

Sterling, who arrived at Anfield from QPR's youth set-up for £600,000 in 2010, has established himself as a regular this season, having made his first-team debut as a late substitute against Wigan in March last year.

He has not looked out of place in the Premier League, and was rewarded for his performances with a five-year contract, which he signed last month.

But manager Brendan Rodgers has been alert to ensure that Sterling's confidence does not spill over into cockiness.

The documentary "Being: Liverpool", broadcast last year, showed Rodgers giving Sterling a public dressing down after being interrupted by the winger during a team-talk as the club undertook a pre-season tour of the United States.

Rodgers told the winger: "You need to improve your attitude. If you say 'steady' to me again when I say something to you, you'll be on the first plane back."

Sterling admitted: "The clip didn't do me any favours. It gave people the impression that I am a massive-time kid, and it's nothing like that. The manager doesn't want young players thinking they are better than they are and he has put his stamp on me. He was laying down the law."

With the lesson learned, Sterling is focusing on his own development - and Liverpool's.

"It's just getting that confidence, really," Sterling said. "I can improve. Obviously as a young player you have people around you and maybe you take the safe option. But now I've got to really go for it because you are going to be judged on the goals and the assists you create."

And Sterling feels the arrival of striker Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea for £12 million at the start of January will help both him and the team.

"I thought recently we've become much stronger and more fluid with our football and obviously the goals are flying," Sterling says. "And, as a team, we are just growing."

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